I have recently watched Captain America: Civil War after the insistence of some friends this past weekend. For those who have missed my last blog post about my view about the lack of originality in movie industry in these days, than you can probably guess I was reluctant to see it. But I gave in for the sake of my friends, and it was better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong I still believe that more original movies should be made and more people should give them a chance, but I am not going to downplay a sequel or a reboot movie if does well and Civil War did well. So well in fact that it is the first movie I went to see it in theaters for a second time.
As I was thinking about what I watched, I noticed something not many people talk about in their reviews of the movie and that is the cycles and consequences of vengeance as well the importance of forgiveness. Now there is discussion about accountability, “with great power comes with great responsibility” and all that jazz; however while I believe that this topic was well presented in this movie I found that it also has a lot to say about vengeance and forgiveness. Needless to say spoiler alert if you have not watched the Civil War and want to go see it…you have been warned.
As we take a closer look at the movie, we need to understand what defines vengeance as well as forgiveness. Thanks to Google Books I was able to find book by Martha Minow entitled Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence which (if you can’t tell by the title) addresses these topics. First up is vengeance, which Minow describes as “the impulse to retaliate when wrongs are done” (p. 10) and states that it has the potential to cross the line in respect to the rule of law. She goes further explaining that…
“The danger is that precisely the same vengeful motive often leads people to exact more than necessary, to be maliciously spiteful or dangerously aggressive, or to become hateful themselves by committing the reciprocal act of violence…Vengeance thus can set in motion a downward spiral of violence, or an unquenchable desire that traps people in cycles of revenge, recrimination, and escalation.” (p. 10)
These downward spirals of violence can be seen as the movie progresses exemplifying themselves within three characters: Helmut Zemo, T’Challa (Black Panther), and Tony Stark (Iron Man). Helmut Zemo, the main driving force in the movie, is enacting revenge upon the Avengers for the events in the Age of Ultron which led to the death of his family. T’Challa seeks vengeance upon Barnes because he holds him responsible for his father’s death that takes place in the movie. Finally Tony goes down the path of retribution upon the revelation that Bucky as Winter Solider murdered his parents.
While all these characters at one point or another decided to enact vengeance, the outcomes for each of these characters by the end of the movie are different. Helmut Zemo who is a departure from his comic book counterpart (instead of a German Baron, he is colonel of a Sokovian tactical unit) is better described as an antagonist than a villain. He still in the mentality of vengeance both before and after the events of the movie and also perpetuated the cycle of violence by inciting conflict between the Avengers, especially at end of the movie where he reveals the circumstances behind the deaths of Tony’s parents with the full intention of provoking Iron Man. All Zemo cared about was that the Avengers pay for the death of his family and he would not let anyone or anything get in his way of his vendetta (seriously he killed two men in the course of the movie). This is best exemplified using his own words:
“I admit it. This war is my doing. The Avengers destroyed my home. They stole my family from me. So what better revenge than to have them fight each other, and tear themselves apart?”
Moving on to T’Challa we see early in the movie his determination to kill Bucky, as exemplified in his question to Captain America during their police escort: “So I ask you as both warrior and king, how long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?” But he has a change of heart when Zemo’s intentions are revealed. After seeing the consequences in the wake of one bitter man’s actions, T’Challa decides to end it before he does something he would live to regret. In his own words to Zemo, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them (Avengers). I am done letting it consume me.” This where forgiveness comes in, which Minow states that…
“The victim should not seek revenge and become a new victimizer but instead should forgive the offender and end the cycle of offense…Through forgiveness, we can renounce resentment, and avoid the self-destructive effects of holding on to pain, grudges, and victimhood. The act of forgiving can reconnect the offender and the victim and establish or renew a relationship; it can heal grief; forge new, constructive alliances; and break cycles of violence.” (p. 14)
In USA Today interview, one of the directors Anthony Russo reflects on T’Challa’s journey throughout the course of the film…
“Black Panther’s arc is one of our favorite things about the movie: He’s driven so powerfully by vengeance and he gets to a point at the end of the film where he realizes what that drive has done and is doing to other people and he’s able to set it down and move forward. This idea that he would offer refuge to Cap, this guy he’s been fighting the whole movie, and Bucky, this guy who he’s been trying to kill the whole movie … is just a really cool arc for him to go through and it’s inspiring.”
Through his actions towards Captain America and Bucky in the end credit scene, T’Challa is demonstrating forgiveness. By the end of the movie he is able to see Barnes in different light than he ever could under the veil of vengeance.
We finally come to Tony Stark who was incited into conflict after being exposed the recording of his parents’ death at the hands of Barnes as the Winter Soldier. Now Stark as we see earlier in the film was reflecting on the grief at the loss of his parents as well the emotions over the division among the Avengers due to the Sokovia Accords. Seeing that Bucky was behind his father and mother’s deaths made him lose whatever patience he had. His mind went immediately to vengeance and not even Cap could talk him out of it.
As the movie ends the Avengers are torn apart, beaten and bloodied by a conflict that could have been avoided. But despite the dark shadow that vengeance casts, forgiveness shines a ray of hope in Steve’s letter at the end of the movie where he asks Tony for forgiveness for not being honest about what happened to his family. We however have to wait and see if Iron Man and Captain America fully reconcile in the movies that are to come (but more than likely they will).
The lessons that this movie teaches is important especially for Christians who are called to demonstrate forgiveness, since Christ displayed the ultimate act of forgiveness through the giving of his own life so we might be saved by the shadow of sin. We rebelled against the God of the universe so we deserve any and all vengeance and retribution for our defiance against Him, but He chose to save and forgive. All we have to do in return is accept that free gift. Closing out will be a passage from Romans where I believe the Apostle Paul summed it up best about how living in grace and forgiveness should be the goal of the Christian life.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”